Israel Moves to Allow Chinese Construction Workers Back In

Finance Ministry hopes to ramp up home building and rein in prices.

Doron Golan

A proposal is expected to be submitted to the cabinet Sunday for allowing Chinese construction workers back into the country.

The resolution, which would accelerate home building in a bid to lower prices, is being pushed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his housing chief at the ministry, Avigdor Yitzhaki.

The motion was drafted just a week ago, so most relevant ministries have not yet delved into it in detail. Once before the government considered letting Chinese workers back in and decided against it.

In the past, foreign workers were forced to pay huge bribes — up to $30,000. Companies working as intermediaries were thought to have generated half a billion dollars in annual revenues in the process, which would make this the largest segment of fraudulent activity in the country.

In the late spring, Kahlon’s plan to allow Chinese construction workers back in hit a snag when Beijing said it did not want its nationals working in West Bank settlements.

China’s condition, which it said was due to safety concerns rather than politics, slowed implementation of a year-old cabinet resolution authorizing an increase in the number of foreign construction workers to 8,000 and later to 15,000.

The negotiations with China were part of bilateral accords that Israel has sought to end abuses of foreign workers. Since 2011, Israel has signed bilateral agreements with Thailand and Sri Lanka regarding farm workers, and with Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania for construction workers. Negotiations with Nepal and Sri Lanka are underway for home health care workers.

Israel’s new policy came after the government received a low score from the U.S. State Department on labor practices and was hit by petitions at the High Court of Justice over abuse of foreign workers.